Q&A: John C. Reilly

Before originating the immortal Dr. Steve Brule, and before earning an Oscar nod in “Chicago,” John C. Reilly had already worked with Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Brian De Palma, Neil Jordan, Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese. After doing those things, Reilly worked with relative upstart writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass to actualize their first studio film, the deliberately and delectably cringe-inducing comedy “Cyrus.” Then he talked to me about it for a few minutes.

It is widely agreed that you are awesome. How did you become awesome?

I don’t know, man. Just dumb luck and following my dreams. Trying to be good, trying not to be cheesy. All of that leads to awesomeness.

You’re good at not being an actor that people get sick of.

Well, I try to stay scarce when I’m not working, so that people don’t get sick of me just being everywhere. And I try to change it up a lot, so that people don’t get sick of me doing one thing, you know? It’s worked so far. It’s sort of self-regulating. If you’re always following your instincts, things tend to change. I’m constantly changing. I don’t know that there is a real me in there. I’m just kind of a vessel for other characters and personalities. And I’m easily bored. But I do take the responsibility seriously. A lot of people come up to me and say, like, “You know, when you’re in a movie, I know it’s gonna be good. And you never let me down. I might not like the whole story or whatever, but….” People really appreciate how careful I am about the things I choose to do.

How did you get involved with the Duplass brothers?

Their reputation sort of preceded them. My wife is an independent film producer and she had met them at a few different film festivals. She’d seen their film “The Puffy Chair,” and she said, “You gotta see this movie.” And I watched it and loved it and sent word to them, like, “Yeah, any time, let’s do something.” And they wrote a script with me in mind. I wish I could say that happens every day, ’cause it would be a lot easier to pick stuff. But anyway, we met and we really hit it off and here we have “Cyrus.”

Did you feel any pressure because they wrote it for you?

I don’t have any problems telling people no if it really doesn’t seem like something I’m engaged by. But I knew from the way that these guys work that it was gonna be a good match.

Jay Duplass says it’s not that you’re fearless, but that you just go for it anyway.

I could say the same thing of Mark and Jay. They forgave themselves for not knowing what the hell they were doing. It’s not always the most comfortable day at work when you show up and you go, “We’re gonna kinda just find it today.” Altman was a little bit like that too. He would just show up and be like, “Look, don’t worry about it. We’ll find something. It won’t be what you’re planning it to be, but it’ll be something great. RIGHT?” He just depended on the people who came to the party to make the party great. With Mark and Jay, they’ve been doing this for a long time, but this is their first big engagement with the Hollywood machine, and they’ve stuck to their guns in a way that I thought was really admirable and showed real confidence. And I’d rather see an original failure than cookie-cutout success, you know? But these guys were just hell bent to tell this story in the way that they know how.

So what is it about incredibly awkward situations that sometimes makes them so satisfying to see in movies?

People want to be surprised. I mean, most movies don’t deal in awkward situations. They try to avoid awkward situations. A lot of the comedy that’s been coming out, everyone’s trying to top each other, be more outrageous, so situations get crazier that way. I think the appeal of this movie is that you really have no idea what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. On the surface level it is a romantic comedy. It’s about a man and a woman that meet and struggle to get their relationship going. But in execution, it’s a lot more original than that. In the way that we talk to each other, and the emotional honesty between people, it’s pretty rare. I think this is true in some ways of Judd Apatow’s movies also. He’s just willing to tell the truth about the way he feels about things. He’s willing to reflect his experiences in movies honestly. And that’s a revolutionary thing to do right now because everyone’s so protective and everything’s so vetted, and everyone’s so groomed, and everything’s so spoon-fed to us these days that to really reflect human beings back at them in a way that seem authentic, it’s unnerving. And refreshing.

Are there parts you want to play? Like when people say, “Before I die, if I don’t do Lear…”?

Ah, yeah. I would make a good Lear, I think. I’ve got a couple years before I’m the right age for that. But I would love to play Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard.” Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls.” You know, I’ve always wanted to do a remake of “Night of the Hunter.” The Robert Mitchum part in “Night of the Hunter.” Brilliant movie.

That’d be something.

I probably shouldn’t be talking about it. I’ve already talked about it with a couple directors.

People will be intrigued.

Most people would go, “What is ‘Night of the Hunter’? Who’s Charles Laughton? Who’s Robert Mitchum?” But fuck those people.